Tag Archives: News: Big News

Big News

Events that are happening currently, and persist for so long – as in years or decades – that we often forget that they are still happening and are still relatively new in our rapidly changing world. We ironically stop learning about these events because they are so ubiquitous to daily life that we assume we know more about them than we actually do.

I also present here anything I believe to be under-reported.

What’s Normal, We’re Not

We are truly different. Our everyday lives are different. America is more different from every other country than any other 2 countries are from each other. Here is how:

1. Consumer Culture

Goods are so abundant and cheap that producers systematically create demand with advertisements. The result is bright colors everywhere representing the well-organized system professionally designed to make us want stuff. This is so omnipresent in our culture that we don’t realize that it’s there. Our system of advertisement reaches around the globe now, and it stands out everywhere else it appears (McDonald’s, Coke, Viagra, etetera).

2. Cars

We each have one. We drive mostly alone. Carpooling is the exception. We park close when we can, pay to when we can’t. Cars are our status symbol for which we spend 6 months to 2 years up to a lifetime of income.

3. Strong Institutions and Rule Following

We trust our institutions. From the government to our universities even to our franchises and brands like Coca Cola and McDonald’s. They consistently tax us, educate us, make our favorite treats, always convenient parking, meet and exceed minimum service standards, and a free bathroom when you need it.

We trust institutions over people. We will invest our life savings in a faceless stock in the stock market, but are much more hesitant to invest in a local business whose owner we actually know.

We stop for traffic lights with nobody around. We pay our taxes. Corruption surprises us. The roads are straight, fast, aligned at perfect right angles. We drink alcohol in specific regulated places at specific times. Next time you walk down the sidewalk in Las Vegas and think it’s cool that you can carry a beer with you, remember, that’s the only thing really normal about Vegas!

Some of these things seem unrelated, but I don’t think so. We are unique in having a mostly stable government that is older than the population, and we accept its authority. Most of us arrived since the constitution was adopted in 1789. Name another country in the world whose current government is older than its people. Egypt or China? Mexico? No. No. No. Any South American country? No. Some theocracy? No, not like us.

4. Sugar as a Food Group

You notice it in the people immediately upon arrival at a US airport.

5. Security

You probably won’t be robbed at a US airport, bus station, or in most public spaces. America has never been invaded. We expect security. We expect our government to counter threats, and it does.

6. Air Conditioning

We don’t just air condition for some comfort and relief. We refrigerate our spaces. Nowhere else in the world I have ever been can afford to do this, or has buildings air-tight enough for it.

7. Television

 

For better or worse, our lives are different. We adapt everyday. Adaptation is so ubiquitous we aren’t even aware of it. We are living an experiment from which came many of the greatest improvements in our lives, … but it is an experiment. It has not run its course. The US accounts for just 6.6% of the land area of the world. It has been less than 200 years since the industrial revolution, out of more than 1 million years of human history. As a population, as a culture, we are shocked, adjusting, and changing. We will not live to see the conclusion. The only thing known so far is that we are not normal.

I live in the US, but mostly without the things on that list. It is liberating to at least identify the ways in which we are different. They are the stressors in our lives. To see people shop as a hobby, drive, follow conventions, sip sugar water, follow years’ and decades’ worth of TV series, and refrigerate their living space is like stepping into a hyper-modern future world. You might think I’m crazy, but the reality is: we are.

When I arrived in Germany in December 2008 to backpack for 2 weeks, my first time leaving the country, I was shocked at how un-shocking things were. People were people, living like people. No big deal. I arrived in Afghanistan in January 2011 for a deployment. I remember that of course, but the adjustment there mostly involved the job to do. After a half year there, the real shock was returning home. The colors! The information! Options! What to do?! That returning home shock doesn’t seem to wear off. I have left the country for 6+ months 5 separate times now, to Afghanistan, Japan, and Brazil. Each time I return, I am shocked by how shocking it is to come home.

Over the last year or so, I have spent a lot of time listening to history lectures from the Greeks through today (I recommend The Great Courses, available on Audible, they are awesome). I started with world history for a while, then recently listened to 2 sets of lectures on American history. The shock is the same when learning about history. There is no precedent for America, neither from distant continents, nor from the distant past. America is America. It stands alone.

America is different. America is far from normal. Travel. Travel anywhere in the world, and when you see normal for the first time, remember that you are seeing normal outside the US. Only when you return will you see what is truly remarkable and special. America.

The Big Five

I recently heard these five companies referred to as “The Big Five.” You have heard of each of these companies. You have done business with at least one of them (or you are in a coma of course).

If you are a person who considers single entities that are too powerful to be a threat, then these collectors of our information would be a threat. How do they compare in size to the US government?

Apple

$220.46 billion = annual revenue

Amazon

$142.57 billion = annual revenue

Google (Alphabet, Inc.)

$94.76 billion = annual revenue

Microsoft

$87.25 billion = annual revenue

Facebook

$30.29 billion = annual revenue

US Government

$3,200 billion = annual tax revenue

Comparison

The total revenue of the five companies combined equals just under 18% of the US government’s tax revenue. Apple’s revenue by itself is 6.9% of the US government’s revenue. They have not passed the government, but they are starting to be in the ballpark.

What They Know, Snapshot

Apple and Microsoft’s operating systems account for most of our computers. Google controls our internet searches, and Android, and YouTube, and many of our e-mails. Amazon knows what we buy. Facebook knows the rest.

What They Don’t Control

ICANN

Others

Breaking News! Barrier to Information Dissemination Drops to Zero

Why am I writing this? More importantly, why are you reading? More importantly, how is it that I can publish something that the entire world can read instantly and for free? This is possible because the internet went public 25 years ago on 6 August 1991. Yes, 25 years ago, but it is still a huge deal–huge–and it may be just now ramping up. Is it breaking news? Yes! Every day of our lives.

I took European history as an AP class in high school, and I could hardly have found it more boring. I specifically remember being taught what a huge deal the “Gutenberg Press” was. I happened to believe that the Gutenberg Press was the single most boring invention or event I’d ever heard of. No longer! By a combination of The Great Courses lectures and learning my own family history, I am a history convert and an enthusiastic believer that the Gutenberg Press matters to us because of its analogous relationship to the internet.

History repeats itself, but you have to know which history to look at. We should look at the Gutenberg Press as the most pertinent historical event for us today because the internet is the modern-day acceleration of what the Gutenberg Press started 550 years before it.

The Gutenberg Press was a big deal because it enabled the rapid dissemination of information. It greatly lowered the barrier to producing copies of ideas. Instead of requiring a team of monks to copy books by hand one word at a time, you could stamp out pages by the hundreds. Before the press, copying was extremely slow, after the press, several orders of magnitude faster, but you still needed a printing press and employees, or later an antenna and a license to broadcast by radio or television, or a copy machine and some kind of network to disseminate the paper. From the press and employees to an antenna and broadcast license, these were all things that only organizations and businesses had, so there was still a barrier. However, beginning in August of 1991, that requirement dropped to zero. Literally anybody with internet access–free at your public library–can publish an idea and give instant access to most of the world within seconds and at a ridiculously low cost of less than $70 per year for a website. Twitter, Facebook, and all social media that matters is free. TV networks actually report what social media says, not the other way around.

What does it mean? It means that both the printing press and the internet are a big deal, and a big deal for the same reason. Therefore, some of their effects on society will be analogous. If you want to read history that is pertinent to today, a good target year is somewhere between 1440 and 1648–plus or minus of course.

The internet went public 25 years ago, and 1465 was 25 years after the printing press was invented, so you might say 1465 is the best year to look at, but things happen faster today. I would argue that we’re past 1465. Did the average peasant even know about the press in 1465? Probably not. Maybe they had seen a printed Bible at church by that time or heard some rumors. By contrast, an estimated 40% of the world’s population is already using the internet.

1648 was 208 years after the invention of the press, and by that time, the protestant movement was established, and The Thirty Years’ War had concluded, the largest conflict that can be directly connected to the invention of the printing press. The Thirty Years’ War involved all the major European powers, resulted in the fracture of the Catholic Church, established an entire new category of religion, and an estimated 8 million people died.

Back to what made this interesting to me in the very first place. Let’s have a quick conversation with my great x 9 grandfather, Michael Rouffin, in Bexbach, Germany in 1655 when he was 20 years old (in German of course, and I made some of this up).

“So Nine-Great Grandpa, that’s a nice wooden-covered Bible you have displayed on the table there.”

“Yes. I’m the first in my family to own one. It was given to me by the church as a gift when I came here to Bexbach.”

“Why did you move to Bexbach? Was there a problem in Rouffin where you’re from?”

“No. The problem was here in Bexbach. Most of the men in this town were killed in the war. Bexbach and the surrounding towns were decimated. I was summoned here by the landlord to replace them and farm the land and repopulate the town.”

“What do you think of the war and these new religions that have established themselves?”

“I don’t know. It sure is a crazy world these days though.”

Boy, was he right! Sound familiar? It was a time of extreme knowledge increase, and extreme upheaval.

That’s all I have. I have to read more history…

Global Warming: Some Numbers, and My Opinion

In this post, I put the numbers that we as individuals can know with reasonable certainty in perspective. I cannot say based on these numbers whether man-made climate change is or is not happening. What I can say is that the numbers show human carbon transfer is large enough to possibly have an effect. Because I believe the burden of proof should be on those saying there is no change, then I assume man is affecting the global climate.

This phenomenon should be called “Global Carbon Transfer.”

Below are some numbers to put our effect as humans in perspective. I have heard both sides of this polarizing issue for a long time, and have been meaning to put some numbers to my own intuition. I chose numbers that can be intuitively understood and, though they are estimates, can be measured fairly directly. As far as I know, the following is not seriously in dispute.

Reference for Perspective

5.15 x 1018 Kg = total mass of the atmosphere.

3.0 x 1015 Kg = total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The following macro numbers are so huge as to be meaningless without some reference for scale. I use this quantity, 3.0 x 1015 Kg, total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere, simply to compare to other huge numbers to get some perspective. They are not directly related to each other within the equilibrium.

CO2 Concentration in the Atmosphere

0.0582% = CO2 in the atmosphere by weight. It makes up a very small portion of the atmosphere.

https://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/math-how-much-co2-by-weight-in-the-atmosphere/

Mass of CO2 Released Annually by Humans

35.9 x 1012 Kg = annual CO2 released by human activity, 2014.

1.2% = mass of annual CO2 released by humans as a fraction of the total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere = [35.9 x 1012 Kg] / [3.0 x 1015 Kg]

Mass of CO2 Released Since the Start of the Industrial Revolution

2.0 x 1015 Kg of CO2 = total CO2 released from 1870-2014.

67% = [2.0 x 1015 Kg] / [3.0 x 1015 Kg] = mass of CO2 released from 1870-2014 as a fraction of the total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere.

https://www.co2.earth/global-co2-emissions

What it Means… and Doesn’t Mean

The amount of CO2 released by humans can be measured fairly accurately. Annually, it equals ~1.2% of the total weight of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is not to be confused with a ratio comparing to the amount of CO2 released naturally annually. We are one source of many in an equilibrium. Though that would be a more meaningful ratio, I did not use it because the amount released and consumed naturally cannot be measured as directly, and is beyond the scope of this post. I stick to numbers that I can know and verify with reasonable certainty.

The amount released by humans since the beginning of the industrial revolution can also be estimated. This equals ~67% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the best I can do as an individual debating this topic, but the total we have poured into the atmosphere  over that amount of time is like measuring the amount of water you put into a bucket with a big leak. How much is still in the bucket? It depends on the leak!

My conclusion: the amount that humans release is not massively alarming in proportion. I cannot prove or disprove man-made climate change. However, it certainly is a relevant amount, we should pay attention to it, and I personally believe man-made global climate change is happening.

The Volcano Effect

~200 x 109 Kg = mass of CO2 that volcanoes release annually on average. This number is widely disputed, and is known to be not well measured.

http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/archive/2007/07_02_15.html

[200 x 109 Kg] / [35.9 x 1012 Kg of CO2] = .56%,

The CO2 released by volcanoes continuously is less than 1% of the amount released by humans continuously, based on this estimate. How much does a big eruption produce? …

The Tambora Eruption of 1815

Regardless of what you believe, you have to read about this! The magnitude is unbelievable. Fun to read about.

https://www.wired.com/2015/04/tambora-1815-just-big-eruption/

The Tambora eruption was possibly the largest in the last 10,000 years: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1815_eruption_of_Mount_Tambora

Tambora released up to 120 x 109 Kg of SO2 and likely caused the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

What is the long-term effect of one huge volcano? How does that compare to our human effect? I do not know.

My Opinion

I personally believe that yes, the earth is warming because we continuously release significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. It makes common sense. Almost everything we do releases CO2. More CO2 changes the reflective properties of the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect as a concept is a proven fact. If it is possible to change the temperature by adding CO2, we are doing everything we can to make it happen.

What do I think we should do? What do I think government policy should be? Regardless of climate change, I believe that reducing dependency on carbon-based fuels is a worthy challenge. Regardless of climate change! Even though I believe global warming is happening, I can’t prove it. Nobody can. Even if it can be proven, can we stop it or reverse it? Well, who cares? Alternatives are cleaner, more renewable, and we could use a good challenge anyway! I think the government should set policy–yes including raising taxes on carbon-based fuels–such that the price is at a level where people have to make significant life choices to economize, but can still live comfortably. For example, car pooling and public transportation are a lot more attractive at $5 / gallon than at $2 / gallon. This simultaneously buys time to find alternate solutions, spurs market ingenuity, provides a meaningful challenge that encourages people to work together, and even supports national security by reducing dependency.